Thursday, April 29, 2010

Machtesh Ramon goes "Boom"

800 tons. 1,600,000 pounds. It's a big number. One million six hundred thousand pounds. Say it. And Machtesh Ramon was going to loose all that weight in 5 seconds as a huge rock face that had detached from the cliff wall was to be detonated to keep it from falling unexpectedly on Route 40 below. It's as if the entre population of Cleveland, Ohio were to loose 5 pounds all at once. (We writers like to use these metaphors to help our readers get a feel for big numbers. Like the number of times your parents embarrassed you as a teen-ager is equal to the number of pencil erasers laid end-to-end reaching from the earth to the moon.) The really amazing thing is that this rock face was pretty small compared to the size of the really big ones that overlook the crater. Another winter rainy season like the one we just had could see an even larger rock face needing to come down.

In this multi-image stitched panorama, the 800 ton rock face is seen to the left of the red balloon and just below the high tension wire tower. The shadow made by its separation from the cliff wall is clearly seen in the early morning sun. Note the giant rock pillars that dwarf the detached one and may some day fall due to erosion. We are at the command and control center, located about 3/4s of the way down the cliff face, with Route 40 snaking above into Mitzpe Ramon.

A close-up of the rock pillar that has detached from the cliff wall. It is located to the left of the red balloon and just below the high tension wire tower. The shadow caused by its detachment cleft is clearly seen. Helicopters from Tamar Explosives Labs, Ltd. closely monitored and filmed the explosion.

We arrived at the command and control center about 3/4s of the way down Route 40 into the Machtesh at about 9:00 AM, 2 hours before the scheduled explosion time of 11:00AM,  just in time to find a Lubavitcher chasid laying tefillin with those present. 

A Lubavitcher chasid lays tefillin with those at the explosion command and control center. Only in Israel!

Laying tefillin before the big blast.

Shmuel Mizrachi, the official from the government who approved the plans for the explosion. A little prayer never hurts!

A purely ceremonial detonator. Everything is computer controlled from the command center.

As time for the detonation approached, the media frenzy rolled into high gear. Cameramen surrounded the operations manager who was responsible for giving to "go" order.

Operations manager surrounded by media frenzy.

Approaching "Go" time.

Inside the command and control center as detonation time approaches.

The countdown was announced starting from "5-4-3-2-1 detonation." I counted nine blasts in all: 5 sequenced blasts to separate the pillar from the cliff and four sequenced blasts to collapse and shatter the base:

5 sequenced initial baslts separate the rock face from the cliff wall, followed by 4 blasts to shatter its base.

And now what everyone has been waiting for. Our video of the actual explosion:

The great pillar of rock separated from the cliff and came raining down in pieces onto the sides of the Machtesh and highway.

Don't forget to "click" for full size images.

See the remainder of this sequence in the slide show below.

There were F16s flying high in the sky during the operation, making a great racket all morning long. After the explosion a pair performed a great loop over the site, leaving exhaust in their wake:

F16 fighter jets perform a loop over the explosion site, leaving con trails in their wake.

The operation was successful and the great hanging rock face was cleared.

From this perspective just below where the rock face was hanging, its place is marked by the chalky column of white just to the left of the balloon, with it's white debris field trailing off below and to the left.

We left while two giant front-end loaders cleaned up the debris from the blast, loading some into trucks, and pushing others to the side of the road or off the cliff into the Machtesh. There were a few huge craters in the road where larger boulders had come down that would be repaired later that day.

Front end loaders clearing Route 40 after the explosion

Tamar Explosives own video of the blast from several angles:

Slide show of explosion

Slide show of command and control center

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